Brown on Shannon, Part Four

George W. Brown

George W. Brown

Parts 1, 2, 3

Wilson Shannon dismissed every grievance that the free soil men had against the proslavery party and their consistent disregard for the sanctity of the ballot box, the legitimacy of elected office, and every other right and process of American democracy save the advance of slavery. They proposed, in the eyes of the free state movement, to enslave white men in order to protect their rights to black lives. But Shannon did quite tell them to drop dead. If they had a real argument, they could avail themselves of the courts.

Brown did not find that persuasive. Rather the opposite, the Herald of Freedom’s editor took it as an affront:

The Governor bids the people of Kansas to seek redress in the Courts of Justice, or at the ballot-box. Is it his intention to add insult to injury? The Courts of Kansas are the tools of the Legislative Assembly elected by the mercenaries of the slave power, and of course will do their bidding. The Supreme Court of the Territory has a majority of pro-slavery men upon the bench, one of whom was the constant adviser of that body during its session, and it is believed passed his opinion on all laws before they went through the forms of Legislation, and both gave an extra judicial decision to the constitutionality and legality of the laws enacted by that body in advance. What hope, then, from the Courts?

Brown had the facts on his side. Franklin Pierce gave the Kansas Supreme Court a proslavery majority. Unlike his first attempt to give it a proslavery governor, he found the right men for the job. The Assembly’s laws granted to itself the power to appoint all judges and insisted that any seeking the job swear oaths to uphold the Fugitive Slave Act and otherwise protect slavery in Kansas. The free soil party could sue but would hardly get a fair hearing from a tribunal so constituted.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon

Shannon also suggested that great American remedy: taking it to the polls. Of course the Legislature arrived at the polls ahead of them with provisions permitting Missourians to legally vote and so removing future cause to contest stolen outcomes. Furthermore, voting in Kansas put a free state man at considerable risk and required him to accept the power of the bogus legislature over his life. Thus Brown held

The ballot-box: We hope to get redress there, but not through that corrupt and oppressive engine, as made by a bogus Legislature. No man can approach that ballot-box without doing violence to his birth-right. He becomes a vile slave-a tool for base-hearted and villainous men, who degrades himself to such a condition.

The free soil party had their own solution to the problem, of course. They would call their own elections, vote their own tickets at their own polling places under the supervision of their own judges of election. So they would completely absent themselves from the forms of legitimacy embraced to sanctify the frauds and force at past elections and make their own substance of legitimacy in the consent of the white, male governed.

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